Manchester United finally got off the mark in the Europa League with an easy 2-0 win against Sheriff Tiraspol in their Group E encounter on Thursday.
Erik ten Hag reverted to his trusted starting line-up with Ronaldo in place of Marcus Rashford the only change from the Arsenal game.
And the decision was vindicated as the team put in a thoroughly mature performance, controlling the game and hardly allowing the opposition any chances.
The Dutch manager had commented before the game about the dangers that Sheriff possess and the home side did start strongly. And after losing to Real Sociedad in their opening game, United needed to pick up full points from this one.
And that is why Ten Hag opted to start Raphael Varane alongside Lisandro Martinez and the duo were impeccable throughout.
Varane the gamechanger
Ever since the opening two defeats to Brighton and Brentford in the Premier League, Varane has come in to shore up the leaking defence and has proved to be the catalyst behind United’s solid run.
In the five games that he has started this season, United have conceded only two goals while keeping three clean sheets. A far cry from last season’s horror show.
He replaced club skipper Harry Maguire and his performances have meant that the England international has hardly got a chance in the starting XI.
Man United with Varane this season:
2 goals conceded
5 wins from 6 games
Man United without Varane this season:
6 goals conceded
0 wins from 2 games pic.twitter.com/VQ8NPo9tQH
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) September 16, 2022
Ten Hag was quick to acknowledge the French World Cup winner’s importance to the cause and called him a leader at the back.
“The reason (for another clean sheet) is we were good in possession and we defended very well,” Ten Hag told MUTV. “With Rapha Varane there as the leader, he puts everyone in the right position, he fits really good together with Licha Martinez and also the two full-backs did their job really good.”
Varane was absent from most of pre-season with Ten Hag commenting that the Frenchman was following a specialised training programme and that has worked out wonders so far.
United legend Rio Ferdinand had spoken of how a proper pre-season would see United get the best out of the former Real Madrid star and that has proved to be the case.
With the Manchester Derby next month, United fans will be praying that their French talisman returns from international duty without any injuries.